Productivity – Inputs vs outputs

Posted on: February 6, 2010

Long ago a senior management consultant for whom I had great respect admonished me for working long hours and stressed the importance of focusing on the outputs rather than the inputs. At the time I was rather indignant – he was advocating that we should not be hung up about what time people start or finish their day nor about all the “stuff” that they might do during the limited hours that they were actually in the office but on what they achieve and accomplish.

As the years have gone by I have watched the support teams at many professional firms work exceedingly long hours with never-ending lists of tasks that grow at an alarming rate. These young professionals risk burning out and then crashing out. Many cannot understand why their enormous efforts do not appear to be appreciated by the partners who crack the whip and drive them to take on heavier workloads and burn even more midnight oil. Particularly during the recent recession where head counts have been slashed whilst the workload burgeoned.

In many of my training sessions with young professionals we reflect on the importance of goals and how they help us focus on the most important things and prioritise our activities. Goals focus on the outputs. No one (who isn’t a fee earner) wins a prize for clocking up the most hours at the office or for having the largest number of “Dones” on their to-do list.

The fee-earning culture works against us though – when the billable hour dictates how much income is generated, the focus is again on the input of the lawyer, accountant and surveyor – rather than the outcome or solution achieved for the client or the fees and profits finally achieved. Would clients mind a large bill so much if they achieved a valuable outcome in record time? Is it any wonder that clients react against large bills for lots of time when the outcome took ages and wasn’t strategically important anyway?

The winners are those who are effective at setting a goal, selecting a strategy and ensuring the desired outcome materialises as quickly as possible. That’s effectiveness. And key to making an impact. It’s a hard lesson to learn, but one that’s worth remembering – they won’t remember your input (unless, as a fee-earner, it was a huge time bill for an unsatisfactory outcome), but they will remember your output. Sounds obvious, but focus on outcomes and results.

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